Standish Wine Company

Standish Wine Company: A Natural Progression

Wine Notes by Heidi Cusick Dickerson

Apples, pears and grapes, family orchards and vineyards interweave the Oswald family’s 100 year old presence in Mendocino County. Throw in a little history that dates to the Mayflower and the story of Standish winery unfolds like the quilt thrown over the couch in the tasting room.

A split rail fence borders the property next to Highway 128 between Philo and Navarro in Anderson Valley. And the rich weathered redwood siding on the quaint two-story apple dryer links the family heritage from loggers to farmers and now to wine producers. Inside the tasting room, reached by a steep redwood stairway to the second floor, Valerie Oswald, with her shoulder length red hair, holds court with Mae West warmth and outgoing enthusiasm.

"I wanted the tasting room to feel like my living room," announces Oswald, dressed in a long sundress. We settle on the quilt draped couch surrounded by tasteful displays of handwoven Andean baskets, family photos, a map of the Oswald’s redwood holdings a hundred years ago and the cozy warmth that old growth redwood walls give to any space. A beautifully finished redwood slab table and chairs fill the center of the room and a stereo is concealed behind sliding doors made from old apple boxes.

I’ve know Valerie since she worked at Greenwood Ridge Vineyards. "Allan Green is my mentor and taught me everything I know about wine," she begins. Before working in the tasting room at Greenwood Ridge, Oswald, who was then a Gowan and related to another long time Anderson Valley family, managed the Boonville Hotel. She started at Greenwood Ridge in 1997. Although Valerie’s and Miles Standish Oswald’s paths had crossed over the years, they didn’t get together until 2005, the same year they married. They joined two families with her two children and his four and organized their lives so as not to disrupt the households, which they co-run in Ukiah and Anderson Valley.

Valerie Oswald grew up in Oregon and Idaho and moved to the area until 1993. She remembers taking a photo of the old apple dryer on a prior trip here and cherishes that photo as an unwitting precursor of what was to come. She vaguely recalls Miles Oswald delivering wine from his family’s Husch Winery to the Boonville Hotel. Miles, whose family on his mother’s side descended directly from the famed Miles Standish, grew up in Mendocino County.

"I developed a passion for the wine business," explains Valerie, adding that "marrying Miles brought to fruition every dream I had." Miles is her "75 percent silent partner." Standish, which pays tribute to Mile’s mother’s side of the family, is a winery that is all about the experience of the place on the historic old Day Ranch, purchased by the Oswalds in the 1970s.

The Day Ranch was settled by the Day family in the 1880s. They grew apples and milled all the wood for the buildings from trees growing on the property. "The only way to get apples to market in those days was to ship them dried," says Valerie. They transported them by buckboard to the coast and then they were put on ships and sent to markets in coastal cities along the Pacific. The 640 acre ranch that span both sides of Highway 128 has had only two deed holders: the Days and the Oswalds.

Miles, one of seven children of Beelu and Hugo Oswald, grew up at La Ribera Ranch (now owned by the Thornhill family) on Old River Road south of Ukiah. His family was in the logging business at the time. A map of their redwood holdings from the 1920s hangs in the tasting room. His brother Hugo Oswald, Jr. made varietal apple juices in the 1980s and sold them at a roadside stand at the Day Ranch, where he also ran the Aple Dryer Cafe.

In 1979, when Husch Winery up the road came on the market, the Oswalds purchased it and went into the winemaking business. They already had the grape source at La Ribera and planted more vineyards at the Day Ranch. Now Miles’ niece and nephew Amanda Holstine and Zac Robinson and their families run Husch Vineyards and Winery.

Honoring the significance of the Day Ranch, which still has small apple and pear orchards in front of the farm houses and next to the tasting room, "we always put Day Ranch on our label," says Valerie. "It commands that respect."

A year after marrying, Valerie and Miles Oswald launched the Standish brand. Valerie and her daughter 23-year-old Brittany Gowan run the tasting room and retail sales. The tasting room opened during Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Fest in 2006. Valerie and Brittany do everything in the business so production is kept purposely manageable to about 750 cases. There is no website although Valerie started a blogspot on Facebook and at Blogger.com under "Standish of Mendocino".

"The first year we were open was really exciting," says Valerie. In addition to receiving accolades and gold medals for their Pinot Noir, their wine was picked up by an international resort group which continues to be a big purchaser of Standish wine.

The cream colored Standish label is straightforward stylish. A second label known as the "artists series" honors Miles’ brother Ken, who passed away suddenly a few years ago. The crayon drawings on the labels were done by Ken when he was nine or ten years old and are fresh lively scenes. They carry a sub name of "Wild King."

Standish wines include Philo Rose, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, all from the Day Ranch. Standish also has a line of vineyard designates. Their Merlot is grown at Sibbett Vineyard in Talmage, owned by Miles’ good friend John Thomas. Two Day Ranch designates include a 2004 Pinot Noir from the Triangle Block and a 2004 Pinot Noir from the Bosc Block, where grandfather Oswald planted an orchard of his beloved Bosc pears. Their 2006 Pinot Noir, which won a double gold at the Mendocino County Fair, comes from the Mayflower Block.

A plaque on the front door of the tasting room honors the Oswald family’s membership in the Mayflower Society and their direct family line since that historic landing Glass topped picnic tables reveal old apple drying racks. A wooden wheel barrel sits on its end against the graying redwood posts. A small pond under a giant weeping willow next to the apple dryer/tasting room is inviting and reminiscent of another era on the ranch.

At Standish you’ll meet the lively proprietors who share their wines grown in the soil once full of apples and pears, continuing a tradition of farming what the public wants and the dreams of those who carry on.

TASTING NOTES: The Standish 2007 Pinot Noir is ripe and lush with bright berry aromas and smooth balanced flavors. It was lovely with peppers stuffed with venison and Redwood Valley’s Queseria Michoacan’s fresh ricotta and queso fresco cheeses.

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